Snapchat, the van­ish­ing-photo app man­aged not to fade

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Snapchat has man­aged to build some­thing last­ing out of pho­tos that van­ished al­most in­stantly. The fast­grow­ing so­cial net­work for mil­len­nial has come a long way since its founder Evan Spiegel dropped out of Stan­ford Univer­sity in 2012, three classes shy of grad­u­a­tion. His goal at the time was to cre­ate a snappy way for peo­ple to send pho­tos, videos and mes­sages - all of which would dis­ap­pear just 10 sec­onds af­ter view­ing.

Snapchat cut a sharp con­trast to Face­book and other so­cial net­works, which en­cour­aged peo­ple to share and share of­ten - even those spon­ta­neous mo­ments they might come to re­gret the next morn­ing or at the next job interview. Snapchat, by con­trast, let peo­ple “show and share things that they do not want to last on the in­ter­net as a per­ma­nent record,” said Ira Kalb, a mar­ket­ing and brand­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

That fea­ture, how­ever, quickly as­so­ci­ated the com­pany with “sex­ting,” the shar­ing of sex­u­ally ex­plicit pho­tos through cell­phone mes­sag­ing. Had Snapchat done noth­ing else, it might well have faded quickly it­self, as such fads of­ten do. In­stead, Snapchat showed a knack for evolv­ing as its users did. It’s now a full-fea­tured mes­sag­ing service pop­u­lar with mil­len­ni­als and big brands alike. It even re­branded as Snap Inc. and now calls it­self “a camera com­pany.”

Now it’s hop­ing to make it­self into a big win­ner on Wall Street as well. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, Snap is ready­ing for a pub­lic stock of­fer­ing that could value the com­pany at $20 bil­lion to $25 bil­lion. Snap de­clined to com­ment.

Re­fus­ing to dis­ap­pear

The com­pany has worked hard to roll out new fea­tures so users don’t get bored. “Sto­ries” al­lows in­di­vid­u­als and brands to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive from mes­sages, videos and pho­tos from the past 24 hours. It’s so pop­u­lar that Face­book’s In­sta­gram now has a ver­sion of it, and In­sta­gram just rolled out dis­ap­pear­ing pho­tos, too. A “Dis­cover” sec­tion serves as a wide-rang­ing news sec­tion, fea­tur­ing ma­te­rial tai­lored for mil­len­ni­als by a se­lect group of pub­lish­ers.

“Lenses” lets peo­ple add dif­fer­ent an­i­mated over­lays to pho­tos and videos; the fea­ture has proven to be pop­u­lar both with young adults and ad­ver­tis­ers. “Snapchat has steadily in­tro­duced new fea­tures ... and in terms of user en­gage­ment it seems like users are spend­ing quite a bit of time in each,” said eMar­keter an­a­lyst Catherine Boyle.

Amanda Peters, 22, a dance in­struc­tor in Fair­fax, Vir­ginia, wasn’t sure how much she would use Snapchat when she got it as a col­lege fresh­man in 2012. But she’s grown to like it more with Lenses. “I like the goofy fil­ters,” she said. “They’re al­ways chang­ing them up, which is nice. Ev­ery day you can go to see what’s new.”

Snap’s ad rev­enue has jumped from $59 mil­lion in 2015 to nearly $367 mil­lion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to eMar­keter. It’s on pace to have more monthly ac­tive users than Twit­ter - which counts 317 mil­lion - by the end of the year. Of course, that is still dwarfed by Face­book, with 1.79 bil­lion monthly ac­tive users as of Sept 30.

Learn­ing to grow

But while Snap is pop­u­lar with the cov­eted 18- to 34-year old au­di­ence, it will even­tu­ally have to broaden its ap­peal to grow. “It’s a great base to start with, (but) ul­ti­mately they need to be­come a lit­tle bit broader in terms of ap­peal to users in order to be­come broader in terms of ap­peal to ad­ver­tis­ers,” Gart­ner an­a­lyst Brian Blau said.

Twit­ter went pub­lic in 2013 to high ac­claim, but it hasn’t suc­ceeded in grow­ing its mem­ber­ship at the rate in­vestors want. It re­cently laid off 9 per­cent of its work­force. As part of belt tight­en­ing, Twit­ter also killed its Vine video app, which was wildly pop­u­lar with teens but didn’t have a re­li­able way to make rev­enue. It’s clearly a fate Snap - with a sim­i­lar youth­ful au­di­ence - wants to avoid. Now you see them, now you don’t For now, though, Snap is man­ag­ing to re­main hip and even has an un­con­ven­tional dis­tri­bu­tion strat­egy for Spec­ta­cles , $130 sun­glasses that take video for shar­ing on Snapchat. You can’t just order one on­line - yet. Rather, they have to find a vend­ing ma­chine or tem­po­rary store pop­ping up with just 24 hours’ no­tice. So far, vend­ing ma­chines have showed up near the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in the Venice Beach sec­tion of Los An­ge­les, as well as in Big Sur, Cal­i­for­nia, and New York.

Lines in New York stretched for hours when the ma­chines first ap­peared. Ge­off Gol­berg, who works in mar­ket­ing in New York, waited three hours in line. An ac­tive livestreamer, he livestreamed him­self on Periscope as he bought the Spec­ta­cles. “It was a spec­ta­cle,” Gol­berg said in a phone interview. “In­side ev­ery­one is tak­ing video, post­ing con­tent to In­sta­gram and tak­ing Snaps. They cre­ated so much buzz around this prod­uct by lim­it­ing sup­plies.”

Even so, Blau said Spec­ta­cles are a niche prod­uct that likely won’t be a ma­jor growth driver. And Snap needs growth - as well as even more ways to evolve to keep its ex­ist­ing users en­gaged. Sa­van­nah Rus­sell, 16, a stu­dent in Min­neapo­lis, is a de­voted Snapchat user, build­ing up “streaks” of daily Snaps with her friends. She said that without Snapchat, she “would show up to school on Mon­day and be very out of the loop.” But she said she doesn’t know how long she’ll stick with it. “The hap­pi­ness comes from be­ing able to in­ter­act with my friends (not the app),” she said. “If some­thing that comes up that’s bet­ter I could see my­self switch­ing to that.” —AP

—AP

NEW YORK: In this Mon­day, Nov 28, 2016 photo, a vend­ing ma­chine con­tain­ing Spec­ta­cles stands in a closed store, in New York.

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